What happens next year is anyone’s guess, but for the rest of this season, Russell Martin is going to be the Yankees regular catcher. He won’t catch every game left in the regular season, but he might catch every game in the postseason, and right now he’s one of their most important hitters against lefties.
Despite the .204 batting average and disappointing season, the Yankees need him. It’s a good time for him to start hitting a little bit.
“I’m a lot more comfortable,” Martin said after last night’s go-ahead homer. “Really, I feel good. It’s hard to describe. I feel like I’m seeing the ball well, feel like I’m taking good swings. offspeed pitches, fastballs, whatever. I’m just seeing it.”
Jesus Montero was traded, Austin Romine was hurt and the Yankees major-league-ready catching depth is down to Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli, two perfectly good backup catchers who don’t have nearly the offensive potential of Martin. Even in a bad year, Martin’s OPS is still considerably better than Stewart’s.
So far this road trip, Martin is 6-for-14 with two homers and seven RBI. That’s an absurdly small sample size, but Martin also raised his batting average a little bit in August, and his numbers against lefties are better than you might expect. His line drive rate and batting average on balls in play suggest there’s something to Joe Girardi’s theory that Martin’s been especially unlucky this season.
“I’m starting to get results and that’s the key, really,” Martin said. “You can be swinging the bat great and not get any results and it doesn’t really change anything. I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat much better for the last month or so. I’m just starting now to get results. It’s a grind, and it’s not over.”
But a catcher getting stronger in September? What are the chances of that?
“I’m not really worn out,” Martin said. “Got to give credit to Joe for resting me adequately, and got to tip your cap to Stewie. He’s been doing a great job when he’s behind the plate. I feel great. It doesn’t feel like September at all. I’m used to feeling a lot worse than I do right now, actually.”
So maybe Martin has something left for this final month of the season. He’s three home runs away from matching his single-season career high, so the power is there. And he’s done a pretty good job drawing walks all season. The Yankees don’t have anyone else to take the job, so it belongs to Martin for better or worse. It’s up to him to make it better.
“We had a talk before the All-Star break, just forget (the first half),” Girardi said. “I think he did a good job of doing that. I never really saw it affect his play or how hard he plays. I just said, ‘Let’s not worry about what happened the first half; let’s go swing the bat in the second half like you’re capable of.’ That’s what he’s done.”
Associated Press photo